By Freddy Moyano
BROWN COUNTY – It’s common to see baby wild animals outside during spring, and as the tiny offspring set out on their own, sometimes danger moves in.
That’s the story with this month’s Rehabilitation Animal of the Month, a seven-day-old eastern cottontail rabbit – who was brought to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary after receiving some cuts as a result of a crow attack.
Curator Lori Bankson said eastern cottontail rabbits are a big picture of the busy spring seasons at the sanctuary.
“This is the most popular mammal we get,” Bankson said. “We get about 2,500 mammals every year and the majority are cottontails. We’ve been getting them (consistently) now for a month here at the Wildlife Sanctuary.”
She said a main reason why they get them at an age as young as this month’s animal is because they are released by their mom at just two weeks old to fend for themselves.
“This one was attacked by a crow,” Bankson said. “(A family) saw it and, luckily, brought it to us. It was just some cuts that we’ve been able to treat, giving him something to eat. He has been doing fairly well.”
Eastern cottontail rabbit
Presenting an apparent small bruise under its chin, this pint-sized kit has been at the sanctuary for about two weeks.
“When people bring them in, not everyone knows exactly what they are,” Bankson said, referring to their dark coloring, more so resembling a vole.
She said they nest through snow, rain, heat and all kinds of Wisconsin weather.
Bankson said the babies remain in their shallow, ground-leveled nest for just 10 to 14 days. “When the weather gets nice, people go into their yards and easily find them,” she said.
Bankson said this tiny rabbit has been paired with another rabbit, who is about five days older that was brought to the sanctuary after being found by dog in a local backyard.
Bankson said these rabbits get a very special formula made for cottontails.
“What we do is (tube-feed) chewed (hay) into their stomachs,” she said, noting the feeding process becomes very stressful at their young age. “People think they can have cat formula or dog formula, but they don’t do well with that.”
Bankson said they will get food tubed into their stomach twice a day for about two weeks.
She said these kits will be able to feed on greens and hay on their own soon.
“If (baby rabbits are) found, it’s good for people to bring them to us so we can especially feed them, rehab them and release them back into the wild,” Bankson said.
Cottontail rabbits begin breeding at a very young age, as young as two or three months old.
Their gestation period is between 25 and 28 days.
These rabbits can have between one and seven litters each year, averaging three or four litters annually, each litter containing between one and 12 babies, with the average one consisting of five.
Adopt a kit
Bankson said they ideally keep cottontail kits in groups of two to eight per cage.
She said a kit’s time in the sanctuary’s Observation Building usually lasts a few days, depending on how old they were upon arrival, but are generally releasable between 15 and 21 days old.
“We have people who sign up and give us permission to release rabbits in their yards,” Bankson said.
Those interested in doing this can find the release form at baybeachwildlife.com.
“We have a big program (dedicated to yard adoption), which is very successful,” Bankson said.
Bankson said February’s animal, the female barred owl who was most likely hit by a car, is doing well and is set for a potential release in early June.
She said the snowy owl, highlighted in March, is beginning to fly and is estimated to be released in July or August.
“We watch for weather and migration patterns,” Bankson said. “We get six months from the Department of Natural Resources, so technically she can stay here until August. We don’t want to rush the release.”
The Rehabilitation Animal of the Month monthly series is a partnership between the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary (BBWS) and focused on highlighting the many animals of the sanctuary and its efforts to rehabilitate its fluffy patients and release them back into the wild.